Walking the Green Talk Eco-Consciousness in Practice at La Joya de Chica

By Phil Dankiw for Inside Panama (lajoyadechica@hotmail.com)

Phil Dankiw is the owner of La Joya de Chica, an eco-friendly mountain lodge in Chicá less than an hour from Panama City.

I’ve seen and visited many so-called “Eco-Conscious” resorts.  I judge a place on how they are affecting those around themselves and by what I see in their garbage bins or how they maintain their properties and vehicles — not by what I read in their online marketing.

“Eco” is short for Ecology:  the science of the Earth and its Environment.

Being “conscious” is the awareness of an ethical aspect to one’s conduct or behavior, together with the urge to prefer “right’ over “wrong”;  letting your actions be guided by a moral compass.

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Eco-consciousness is of utmost importance to us at La Joya de Chicá. Our efforts started with the construction of the building — we chose materials that would last, including M2 Styrofoam insulated walls to keep temperatures inside the house low and constant. We are gifted with cooler temperatures in the mountains, but we still make the choice to avoid using air conditioners by opening the windows and using ceiling fans.

We’ve created a culture of cleanliness that extends to our employees by asking them to pick up garbage and be more economical with material usage until they adopted that behavior as their own. One of the best parts is that this idea has started to extend to my neighbors — other properties are recycling and keeping things clean because they don’t want to be shown up! I also organize and pay my employees to clean the nearby ditches.

We installed 220V equipment. It cost more money upfront, but this is one area that actually does pay for itself in the long run, as 220V equipment runs more efficiently that 110V. Our appliances are all energy efficient and we adjusted them to work at peak performance. We also use automatic timers to control how long the equipment runs.

We installed surge protectors on the electronics for two reasons: 1, by shutting down during an electrical power surge, you prevent motors from running outside their proper performance levels; and 2, more importantly, it prevents them from burning out. Getting as many years of usage out of your equipment as possible saves unnecessary replacements — thereby keeping waste out of the landfill.

We considered solar panels, but the cost was enormous at the time. I had to consider that factor and the longevity of the panels themselves, since disposing of old ones isn’t environmentally friendly, either. I do use rechargeable solar lighting with replacement rechargeable batteries and automatic light sensors for security and exterior walkways.

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Our property is in the middle of the forest, and we had to clear a lot of the land before we could build or plant our gardens. We did as much of the cutting as possible by hand with machetes and kept our power equipment serviced. Adjusting carburetors and changing the oil filters helps tools run cleanly. This is especially important in vehicles, since simple oil or air filter changes can make a world of difference in emissions and fuel performance. Most of the diesels you see puffing out billows of black smoke is usually due to the owner not wanting to spend the $12 on an oil filter.

In the kitchen, we only use what we need — this prevents the situation of loading up the refrigerator and freezer to a point where they over-work and burn more electricity.

We make use of the recycling centers around Chorrera, Capira, Gorgona, and San Carlos. Separate your waste! Keeping containers for food waste, paper/cardboard, food tins, glass, and aluminum cans reduces our garbage immensely.  The centers will pay you for your recyclables! Even during our busiest times with overnight guests Thursday-Monday, and groups of up to 25 on Saturday and Sunday Brunch, I still manage to maintain a “one garbage bag a week” policy.

Small brush, tree trimmings, and plant cuttings are chipped into small pieces and stored on site to be used later. All food waste is composted back to the farm or to feed the chickens in the area. Paper good are burned with unwanted brush that does not easily decay, and the ash is gathered and mixed with mulch created from the wood chips and chicken manure — an excellent natural fertilizer!

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Protecting the cleanliness of you incoming water source is important. By using the proper sediment and carbon filters and having the water tested, which can be done at MIDA in Capira, you can cut down on bottled water and drink your tap water. For those who are still not convinced, I provide water coolers instead of personal bottles as it cuts down on waste and is far more cost efficient. Using glasses and cloth napkins to cut down on waste means a little extra cleaning and a little extra water, but it’s a lot less waste and is better in the long run.

Surrounding myself in Nature was not just an accident. I wanted a farm, something with property whose bounty would sustain me. Having produce growing right here means not having to visit the grocery stores as often, and when I do it is well-planned to incorporate as many tasks as possible. This saves on fuel, plus the wear and tear on the vehicles.

Eco-consciousness means thinking, planning, and preparing for what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. For me and La Joya de Chicá, it’s a way of life.

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